This past Wednesday in our regular weekly Bible study at Team Expansion’s Int’l Services office, we tackled the challenge of trying to document some of the typical roots of team conflict. It was interesting enough to me that I thought we should expand on our discussion here in the “BackPage” of Brigada. As our springboard, we read from I Cor. 1, where Paul says he’s glad he hadn’t focused so heavily on baptizing people personally, simply because he was starting to get sick at his stomach of the number of ‘name-droppers’ who would somehow try to ‘glory’ in the fact that they had been baptized by Paul himself. So one of the roots of division and team conflict might be pride, do you think? :-) Whenever we are unwilling to give way to others, because we value our own needs above others’, we concluded that conflict would always be the outcome. Other causes might include inflexibility, selfishness, lack of communication skills, and more.
What are some of your own theories as to why missionaries, national workers, and home office personnel sometimes can’t (or won’t) get along? If you quote a source in your response, please point us to it. And thanks in advance for any tips you can provide.
In my experience, the most common cause is lack of communication. This causes people to make assumptions about others’ thoughts and motivations. Sometimes there is a true difference of opinion, sometimes it is just a misunderstanding. What complicates it in ministry teams is that there can be a temptation to spiritualize the conflict, turning it into a sort of holy war, when the root cause really is not spiritual at all, but a simple disagreement, misunderstanding, or even personality difference.
One of the biggest causes of conflict on a team from my experience is a difference in work ethic. One team member may be a work-aholic, while another is more careful to make time for family and rest. One wife is anxious to do as much ministry as anyone else; another wants to focus on being a wife and mother. Everyone on the team needs to come to terms with these differences.
Teams must also learn to appreciate the differences in gifts among its members. Certain roles tend to be “higher profile” and may seem more important. The “body” analogies in scripture are just as true on a team as in the church.
Doug, having lived in three countries as one of those “M’s”, and now in a place where I minister to them and pastors too, I find that many hung out in their own social circle in their church, then went to the field and got placed right in the midst of people that are “not like them”, would never have fit in that circle at home, and would not ever be conformed to “their circle.” So to prepare, M’s have to break immediately out of cliques at church and learn to hang out and listen to and compromise with all the folks at church, because that art of 1000 compromises and adjustments is what they will need – – SOON.
Romans 12 is a transition point from all that God has done for us to our response. After some very valuable insights about 1) giving our entire being to Him, 2) not using the methods of the world, 3) having a sane estimate of our capabilities, not by the measures of the world, but by the “measure of faith” He has given (and what we do with that measure), and 4) whatever we do, do it diligently…whew! A lifetime of lessons just there! It is now interesting that the first thing Paul addresses after that is the subject of INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS! He lists 25 SOLUTIONS to interpersonal relationships, starting with “abhor that which is evil” and “cling to that which is good”, and 23 others!
After the team has those 25 solutions down, another skill exercise we have found valuable is called FRAME OF REFERENCE. Every experience of life affects how we look at every new experience of life. This becomes a grid—a template, a filter—through which we perceive every new experience of life. The exercise comes in couplets, such as Direct vs Indirect Communicator, and 20+ more couplets. First understanding where I am “coming from” and then understanding where my co-workers are “coming from” helps the interpersonal relationships immensely! We can send a copy of this: Emmaus_Road@eri.org.
Now to the subject of PRIDE! As you can already see, this is a “nasty” one with me. Not in the newer translations (for they have put in even Paul’s mouth the word “pride”), but in the KJV that Paul used ;-), every reference to “pride” is in the negative. My wife an I “argue” if there is a “good” pride and a “bad” pride. No such thing, says the Bible. A number of weeks ago I did video conference seminar with a group of Indonesians who want to translate into their culture some material we offer on developing a sending church. The subject of “pride” came up. Off they were into their Bahasa language. They came up with this distinction: “sombong” is totally negative…everything we think of when a person is lifted up in pride (as was licifer). On the other hand, the word “banga” is positive. But they would not translate it into English “pride”, but “satisfied, joyful, fulfilled”. God was “banga” with His creation. He was satisfied, joyful and fulfilled. “It was very good!”
To God be all glory!
If the team leader is not comfortable in that role, tensions can develop very easily. Issues from the past can hamper ministry in the present.
For instance, if a person has been told they will “never amount to anything”, then that person may have an obsession to prove that prediction wrong. Consequently, anything that does not appear to be “successful” must be avoided.
In leadership, this can be demonstrated by constant change of direction (always justified by assurance that “the Lord has shown me that we should make this change”).
This results in confusion in team members, who want clarification for the reasons for the change in direction. The leader, however, not being comfortable and secure in that role, may interpret their need for clarification in the wrong way and feel threatened in his position.
Whoa. I had no idea we’d spark such a great discussion. We’re seeing “hands-on” feedback from practitioners, as well as from the people ministering to them. Obviously, Neal, your discussion carries a whole series of lessons in a nutshell. Thanks for sharing from your many years of experience and insightful knowledge. Keep it up. Anyone else? Any resources for discovering the nature of those conflicts?